294 B. POLEVOI
their lean sides, and a loaf of army bread. Petrov proved
to be less provident; all he had was some meat and rusks.
Marina cut all this up with her small deft hands and laid
it out appetisingly on the plates. More and more often her
eyes, concealed by long lashes, scrutinised Petrov's face,
while Petrov cast furtive glances at her. When their eyes
met they both flushed, frowned and turned their heads
away; and they conversed only through Meresyev, never
addressing each other directly. It amused Alexei to watch
them, amused and yet saddened him a little: they were
both so young. Compared with them he felt old, tired and
with a large part of his life behind him.
"Marina, you don't happent to have some cucumbers
eh?" he asked.
"We do," the young woman answered with a roguish
"And perhaps you can find a couple of boiled pota-
"Yes—if you ask for it properly."
She left the room again, skipping over the bodies of
the sleepers lightly and noiselessly, like a moth.
"Comrade Senior Lieutenant!" protested Petrov. "How
can you be so familiar with a girl you don't know?
Asking her for cucumbers and----"
Meresyev broke into a merry laugh.
"Listen, old man, where do you think you are? Are we
at the front, or aren't we?... Hey, Grandma! Stop
grousing! Come down and eat with us!"
Grunting and mumbling to herself, the old woman got
down from the stove, came to the table and at once
pounced on the sausage, of which, it appeared, she had
been very fond before the war.
The four of them sat down at the table and to the
accompaniment of the snores and sleepy mumbling of the
other inmates, supped with great relish. Alexei chatted
all the time, teased the old woman and made Marina
laugh. Finding himself at last in his element of bivouac
life, he enjoyed it thoroughly, feeling as if he had come
home after long wanderings in foreign lands.
Towards the end of the supper the friends learned that
this village had survived because it had been the head-
quarters of a German unit. When the Soviet Army launched